Avoiding Death by Christmas Tree

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sent out an important warning this week: we all must keep safety in mind as we enjoy our holidays, which often include decorating with candles, holiday lights, and Christmas trees. As beautiful as these decorations are, when not used properly they can lead to fires, injuries, and in the worst cases death.

According to CPSC (formerly chaired by Hal Stratton, now an ACSH Trustee), there are more than 14,000 candle related fires annually, and 170 of those fires result in death. In addition to this, these fires lead to 350 million in property loss each year. Christmas trees also pose a risk -- they account for 200 fires per year, which result in ten deaths and $10 million worth of property damage. During November and December of each year -- peak holiday decorating season -- about 10,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms as a result of falls, cuts, shocks, and burns related to their decor. These tragedies are especially sad in light of how easily they could have been prevented

CPSC scours the market looking for dangerous holiday lights and decorations in order to aid in the prevention of potential holiday accidents. In addition to this, they also work with U.S. Customs in attempts to keep any identified dangerous holiday decorations out of the U.S. Their work is helpful, but it is also important that people know how to take matters into their own hands when it comes to creating a safe environment during the holidays. Here are just a few potentially lifesaving decorating tips from the CPSC:

•Look for a label that says "fire resistant" before buying an artificial tree.

•Before buying a live tree, check for green needles that are difficult to pull from the branches, don't break when bent, and don't fall off when the tree is tapped on the ground. The tree's bottom should be sticky with resin. These are characteristics of a fresh tree that is less likely to catch fire.

•Place trees away from sources of heat such as fireplaces and radiators and away from heavy traffic areas in homes.

•Water fresh trees to prevent them from drying out.

•Decorate trees with noncombustible or flame-resistant materials.

•Follow directions when using artificial snow sprays, which can irritate lungs if used improperly.

•Families with young children should avoid ornaments with small removable parts that could pose a choking hazard.

•Keep candles away from decorations and furniture that can easily catch fire, as well as children and pets. And keep burning candles in sight.

•Use nonflammable candle holders and never leave lit candles unattended.

•Place a screen around fireplaces, and do not use them to burn wrapping paper or plastic materials.

The holiday season is meant to be a happy time but can also be a stressful time with all the traveling, shopping, and making up for lost time with friends and family. However, we at ACSH want everyone to realize that there is another stress that people too often overlook -- dealing with mishaps resulting from dangerous holiday decorations. Please see the CPsC website for more advice on how to keep your friends and family safe this holiday season.

Krystal Wilson is a research associate at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org, HealthFactsAndFears.com).

See also: ACSH's report about the tragic anti-chemical-activist assault on Brominated Flame Retardants.

Brominated Flame Retardants